Waste filters are not the most exciting product but they are vital to modern life: people rely on clean, flowing water free of garbage. What people may not know is that the geometry of these waste filters is key to catching all the debris, while keeping water flowing freely.
That is where Sumanth Swaminathan came in. With his colleagues at W.L. Gore & Associates, which makes a range of industrial and medical products like Gore-Tex and Glide dental floss, Swaminathan combined geometry and fluid dynamics to improve waste filters.
“I love being the person who’s given a problem that doesn’t make any sense; then turns it into a problem that makes sense, solves it, and provides an enormous amount of value to a company,” said Swaminathan, who earned his Ph.D in applied mathematics at Northwestern University.
Their team used network theory to optimize the filter’s ability to catch garbage in the water. Simulating particle and fluid flow through the filter to see where they land, he helped mathematically optimize the microstructure in the improved filters
“The geometry is really complicated so we had to do some additional mathematics just to understand what’s inside the images of the filters,” he said. Then Swaminathan translated the physical explanation from the simulations into a calculation, which was then used to build a model of the new filter.
This process, building new models from mathematical calculations, saves both time and resources in the actual building side of material science. Instead of building prototype after prototype, the researchers can get closer and closer to the finished product, so when it is ready for testing it is nearly ready to be used. The same steps Swaminathan used to produce a waste filter can be applied to new products like guitar strings or dental floss.
Now as Chief Data Scientist for Revon Systems, Swaminathan develops machine learning algorithms for early predictions of disease exacerbations in patients with chronic illnesses. The algorithms also predict what advice to give patients and what medical help to seek.